Corporate Veganism

The main purpose here is to share resources on a traditional healthy diet, in contrast to industrial diets of big ag and processed foods (from SAD to vegan), as related to human evolution, agricultural practices, food systems, corporate capitalism, modern civilization, and environmental sustainability. Below are listed documentaries and books, along with the names of health advocates and public intellectuals who have shaped my thinking or simply come onto my radar, and a few select videos. These recommendations can be found at the end of this post, but first I wanted to share what motivated me to make this list. One thing that has received a lot of attention lately is the just released vegan documentary The Game Changers, a slick Hollywood production with big money and big names behind it, such as James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pamela Andersen, Jackie Chan, and many more, including sports stars and a celebrity chef — all producers or executive producers which means they contributed either money or influence for the film. (By the way, if you want a mainstream analysis of the science, check out Paul Kita’s review at Men’s Health: This New Documentary Says Meat Will Kill You. Here’s Why It’s Wrong.)

There is an obvious and direct conflict of interest, and more importantly there was no disclosure of this fact. Cameron, as the leading name among the executive directors, is the founder (along with his wife, Suzy Amis Cameron) and CEO of Verdient Foods, the largest pea protein processing plant in the world in which he owns a hundred and forty million dollars worth of investment, according to Shawn Baker (stated in video below). To a lesser degree of conflict, though also unstated, others involved in the documentary have vegan-related and “plant-based” products and services they sell: supplements, retreats, online programs, meal planning service, publishing, books, DVDs, etc (Meredith Root, The Game Changers – A Scientific Review With Full Citations; Layne Norton, The Game Changers Review – A Scientific Analysis (Updated)). That might explain why wealthy individuals would put so much money into a documentary that is guaranteed to lose money.

It’s an investment and advertisement, what Lance Ng said “felt like ‘covert marketing’ — the kind of secret sponsorship of product placement, blogging, or social media posts that brands do today to subtly influence consumers” (Is Game Changers Funded by Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat?). And Ng goes on to say that, “The documentary was also somewhat ironic. It lambasted the cigarette industry for using sports stars and doctors in the past to promote smoking and play down health concerns. It then accused the meat industry of doing the same to create the perception that ‘real men eat meat’, as well as funding research to dispel the link between cancer and meat diets. But throughout the whole documentary, it was interviewing athletes, scientists and doctors who endorsed plant-based diets. Wouldn’t that be a classic case of ‘pot calling the kettle black’?” I’ll note that something like pea protein is a product of big ag and big food, a key concern for me as I will explain. How would you perceive an expensive documentary produced by the Ford car company advocating that Americans should buy more cars and drive more often because it would make them happier, more attractive, improve their sex life, or whatever?

Industrially produced and processed supplements like pea protein are becoming big business, as it’s “a key ingredient in Beyond Meat, which is in short supply right now” (Lance Ng). “Financial publication MarketWatch explained that the recent moves will allow Ingredion to “capitalize on the growing taste for plant-based foods and diets.” Ingredion predicts that the global plant-based food market will reach $1.5 billion by 2022″ (Jemima Webber, James Cameron Participates in $140 Million Vegan Protein Investment). To put this in further context, Ingredion is “one of the leading global ingredient suppliers” (Anthony Gustin, Game Changers Movie Review: Fact vs. Fiction). These are no small players in corporate capitalism and neoliberal trade. And it extends beyond a single company, including a network of business interests. “I found at least one direct link between celebrity investment and The Game Changers. Remember Chris Paul, the executive producer and NBA star? He’s an investor in Beyond Meat. […] There’s another less direct but much more pertinent link. James Cameron and his wife are both producers of The Game Changers. Cameron and his wife met on the set of Titanic, which starred… Leonardo DiCaprio, another Beyond Meat investor” (Lance Ng). It’s not really about getting people, I’d argue, to become fully vegan but to spin industrial products as “plant-based” health foods.

I came across another example of vegetarianism and veganism getting promoted by corporate interests. Frédéric Leroy, in a recent talk about scapegoating meat, gave an analysis of how “this narrative gets propagated by mass media.” His focus was on ‘mainstream’ newspapers. The example given was amazing in how blatant it is as perception management and social engineering: “The Guardian has received a substantial amount of money to publish a series called animals farmed which goal is to depict animal agriculture as harmful to humans, the planet, animals, etc. Now this money is originating from the Open Philanthropy Project which is also an investor in Impossible Foods, by the way” (from the last video below). That is corporate-funded fake news being presented as actual news reporting. Anyone, even vegans, should find this disturbing. Could you imagine the public outrage if a major investor in a beef company paid for a series of articles depict industrial agriculture producing fruits and vegetables as “harmful to humans, the planet, animals, etc.” That would be considered unacceptable or else laughable. The reputation of the newspaper would have taken a major hit. So, why does this kind of corporate propaganda get published without any other major news source doing an investigative piece on it? Maybe because all of the corporate media receives similar money from various corporate interests.

Sadly, one has to assume that any news reporting in corporate media might be part of a larger corporate agenda, unless proven otherwise. Whether or not a particular news outlet is getting direct funding to lie to or otherwise manipulate the public, the whole bias and spin that has been manufactured seeps into all of the corporate media and beyond. Here is another example that makes me suspicious, even if I don’t know the exact corporate interests behind it. It’s from Carte Blanche, a South African news program that has done award-winning investigative journalism. In a show that just put out, Meat vs Planet (11/17/19), they portray themselves as investigating the issue without bias. It’s simply a matter, according to the narrative, of our choosing either meat or the planet. Framed like that, it really is a tough decision. I do like meat, but the planet also has its advantages. Too bad there wasn’t a way to have both meat and the planet. Jeez! That is so pathetic as supposed “investigative journalism” that everyone involved in that show should resign in shame. In a post on Facebook, Carte Blanche further framed it as “Meat vs Beans“. It’s so fucking idiotic. Basically, you must eat beans for the rest of your life, if you care about continued existence of the planet. Eating some meat is equivalent to planetary mass homicide. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with this topic knows it’s not this simplistic. This has stood out to me ever since I researched the EAT-Lancet report that advocated a “plant-based” diet to save humanity and all life on earth (Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet; also see the rest of the voluminous info at that piece):

“One might note that EAT-Lancet is specifically partnered with big biz, including big ag companies such as Monsanto that has poisoned the world’s population with Roundup (i.e., glyphosate), and understand that big ag is among the most powerful interests in the US considering our country’s wealth was built on agriculture (a great example being the wealth of the plutocratic and corporatist Koch brothers whose wealth in part came from manufacturing fertilizer). Other companies involved are those developing meat alternatives produced from the industrially-farmed crops of big ag. And big ag is dependent on big oil for production of farm chemicals. EAT Foundation president and founder, Gunhild Stordalen, has been noted as a significant figure in the oil industry (Lars Taraldsen, ONS 2014 conference program to feature oil industry heavy hitters). But don’t worry about how this carb-laden diet of processed foods will harm your health with the majority of the American population already some combination of insulin sensitive, pre-diabetic, and diabetic — they’ve got this covered: “The drug company Novo Nordisk supports Eat-Lancet. Smart. Insulin is 85% of their revenue” (P. D. Mangan). I’m beginning to see a pattern here in the vested interests behind this proposal: “Eat lancet sponsors. Chemical companies, pharmaceutical companies (mostly making diabetes meds), the world’s biggest pasta manufacturer, the world biggest seed oil supplier, the world’s biggest breakfast cereal supplier” (David Wyant); “Pesticides, fertilisers, #gm (Bayer/Monsanto, BASF, Syngenta);sugar+fake flavourings/colourings (PepsiCo, Nestle, Givaudin, Symrise);ultraprocessed grains/starches (Cargill, Kellogg’s);#palmoil (Olam); additives and enzymes (DSM)- companies backing #EatLancet diet. I wonder why?” (Joanna Blythman).

“Just to throw out a crazy idea, maybe transnational corporations are the problem, not the answer. “Just think about it. EAT Lancet is the processed food industry telling us that eating more processed food is good for our health & planet. That’s like oil industry stating burn more fossil fuel will save planet. Vested interests think we are that gullible?”, in the words of Gary Fettke, an outspoken surgeon who (like John Yudkin and Tim Noakes) was bullied and harassed when challenging the powers that be, for the crime of advising an evidence-based low-carb/sugar diet. “This Poison Cartel of companies,” writes Vandana Shiva in reference to the corporate alliance behind EAT-Lancet, “have together contributed up to 50% Green house gases leading to climate change, and the chronic disease epidemic related to chemicals in food, loss in diversity in the diet, industrially processed junk food, and fake food.” The Lancet Journal itself, from a new report, is now warning of us the exact same thing, in that many corporate sectors (including those backing EAT-Lancet) receive $5 trillion in government subsidies: “Big Food’s obstructive power is further enhanced by governance arrangements that legitimize industry participation in public policy development” (Swinburn et al, The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change).”

But the most damning part is that these corporate backers of EAT-Lancet were hidden on a page buried many layers deep on the EAT Foundation website. It’s strange that big biz wants to push a particular diet on the entire world population, as is the stated intention of the EAT-Lancet campaign. What specifically about “plant-based” diets is to the benefit and profit of big biz? And why were they hiding their involvement, as opposed to using it as a PR opportunity for greenwashing their corporate image? The EAT-Lancet report was supposedly about saving humanity and the earth. That sounds like a positive thing. Why the secrecy? It made no sense that these corporations wouldn’t want to be openly associated with it, if their intentions were truly good as argued in the report.

Then it occurred to me that these corporations want to shape the political narrative and manipulate the public debate but without it seeming like a special interest agenda. It was being spun as environmentalism and humanitarianism, but the thing about many environmentalists is that they’d be suspicious of such a corporate campaign openly being framed as a corporate agenda. Those attracted to environmentalism tend to be critical of big biz, and so to manipulate activists and the rest of the public it is necessary to make it seem like a neutral project to improve the world. So, instead of advertising the corporate-friendly nature of it, the EAT Foundation was joined by Lancet that would give it scientific credibility and public respectability. It was also spun as an issue of morality, as part of hyper-individualistic consumer-citizenry. Adopt the right dietary social identity and buy the right products. Then you are free of all sin and guilt. You are one of the good guys and so can feel morally righteous as part of the cause. Tapping into people’s need for self-worth and belonging is a powerful motivator. Yet, this kind of hyper-individualism always casts a shadow of authoritarianism, as seen in how vegans and vegetarians argue for laws that would force compliance (e.g., EAT-Lancet). There is the elect who choose righteousness and then there is the rest of fallen humanity who must be made to get into line.

Still, why is a “plant-based” diet used to enact such a vision and agenda? Vegans and vegetarians are always claiming that the world is ruled by corporations producing animal foods, the secret cabal of beef and dairy lobbyists. So, why are some of the most profitable and powerful big ag, big food, and other big biz companies choosing to push rhetoric that blames animal foods and scapegoats meat-eaters? During recent HHS and USDA hearings about the 2020 dietary guidelines, the beef industry lobbyist didn’t even advocate for a meat-based diet, much less an all-meat diet (2020 Dietary Guidelines: Fight Over Low-Carb). Instead, he weakly and defensively pointed that meat could be part of a healthy, balanced diet along with grains, fruits and vegetables, hardly a controversial or biased position to take. This is a standard argument from the beef industry — consider a similar point made in the Beef Magazine: “Because the heart of the matter isn’t if we eat meat or just plants. What truly is at stake here is our freedom of food choice and our freedom to farm. And beyond that, this advice is dangerous, elitist and irresponsible” (Amanda Radke, Why Schwarzenegger’s “Game Changers” documentary is dangerous). This is far from an extreme, biased position. Instead, it’s a plea for moderation and balance.

It’s not the animal foods companies and their lobbyists spinning plant vs meat rhetoric nor even telling people to eat an animal-based diet, much less an all-meat carnivore diet. This is in contrast to something like EAT-Lancet that very much has gone on the offense in making a hard sell for the plant-based diet, not moderation as part of a balanced diet but pushed to an unhealthy extreme. They aren’t simply making scientific-based recommendations for including fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, and seeds along with diet that also allows equal portions of meat, eggs, and dairy. Nor is it even a focus on vegetarianism that potentially allows large helpings of animal foods, as one could be vegetarian while eating eggs and dairy with every meal. Instead, based on moralistic dogma, this is advocacy for a plants-only diet, where “plant-based” or “plant-forward” is thinly veiled vegan propaganda. Isn’t that an intriguing distinction? The plant foods industry is attacking the animal foods industry in trying to get consumers to buy less animal foods, but there is no equivalent action in the other direction. I’ve never come across a beef, egg, or dairy representative or lobbyist arguing against plant foods, much less attacking vegetarians and vegans. So, why this one way hatred and judgment, dismissiveness and scapegoating?

This isn’t hard to understand once you realize the immense profit in industrial agriculture and processed foods. Meat is irrelevant, as far as big biz is concerned. Most processed foods are not made with animal foods but with shelf-stable ingredients such as wheat, soy, corn, corn syrup, seed oils, etc. The real issue here isn’t meat vs beans or meat vs planet or whatever other bullshit. It’s sustainability of regenerative farming vs externalized costs of industrial agriculture (Carnivore Is Vegan). Besides, these companies are hedging their bets. The parent companies operate businesses in multiple areas. The same company making hamburger patties, for example, likely is also under another brand name making veggie burgers. If the sales of one product goes down, the sales of the other product likely will go up. Their only concern is to ensure they control the system and dominate the market, whether producing animal-based processed foods or plant-based processed foods, although the latter does have a better profit margin. What is unimportant to profitability is that, in analysis, production of some of the veggie burgers causes far more environmental harm than the raising of cows in factor farms for hamburgers. What is being sold is an image of health for humanity and the earth. As for the inconvenient details, they can be smoothed over with nice-sounding rhetoric.

It’s worse than this. The fact of the matter is that all animal foods could be produced through regenerative farming, as only 5% of the land in the United States and 5-10% of the usable land in the world can be used for farming, what is called arable land, whereas 100% of it can be used for grazing (about two-thirds of all land could produce food for humans, i.e. usable land, not considering other lands available for hunting and trapping). To feed the world with plant foods on a few percentage of the usable land requires industrial agriculture with high-yield harvests from chemical-drenched monocrops. So, promoting a “plant-based” diet is a way of promoting industrial agriculture without having to state it that way. No one, vegan or otherwise, is going to become a political activist to defend big ag. It must be presented as something else and that must be given a compelling narrative, which is where emotion-laden environmentalism comes in. The greatest threat to industrial agriculture is not meat in general, definitely not factory-farmed meat, but specifically meat that is sustainably produced. Industrial agriculture is not sustainable and that is the public debate big biz hopes to avoid. And in avoiding that, they are avoiding the messy details of how closely linked is big ag to the entire network of big biz interests: big oil, big defense, big tech, etc (Is California a Canary in the Coal Mine?). Immense effort goes into avoiding that public debate.

It just so happens that “plant-based” diets are a perfect fit for the big biz profits and the power structure they represent. That is even more true for veganism, since veganism is literally impossible without industrialization of not only agriculture but transportation systems, fortified foods, and supplements. By the way, this is what potentially differentiates veganism from vegetarianism (Vegetarianism is an Animal-Based Diet); like omnivore and carnivore diets, vegetarianism theoretically could be done with regenerative farming, assuming the vegetarian would eat mostly eggs and dairy during the season (winter and spring) when locally-grown organic plant foods aren’t available; and so any of the animal-based diets, including vegetarianism, can avoid deficiencies of animal-sourced nutrients (fat-soluble vitamins, choline, carnitine, etc; even cholesterol that is required for brain function). The industrial diet, veganism most of all, is so nutrient-deficient that it requires nutrients to be added back into the diet (by the way, calling a supplement-dependent diet ‘healthy’ is a joke; one could survive, if not thrive, by literally eating shit as long as the shit was nutrient-fortified and one had plenty of supplements). That is the reason veganism did not exist prior to industrialization. Big biz doesn’t actually give a fuck about the environment or human health. It’s just convenient rhetoric to get animal-loving environmentalists on board as useful idiots. As long as they keep the attack on meat-eaters, the typically anti-corporatist environmentalists will never pause for a moment to look at the corporate interests that are directing their attention away from the corporations themselves. The average vegan or vegetarian watches an unscientific documentary like Cowspiracy or The Game Changers and they suddenly think they’re informed. They have no idea of the evil genius and Machiavellian powers that are manipulating them through carefully crafted rhetorical framing used in line with the propaganda model of media.

The question is what makes these otherwise critical left-wingers such willing dupes. My sense is it has to do with the religious nature of these dietary ideologies. Vegetarianism was introduced to the West from Hinduism and veganism emerged out of a divine vision of a late 19th century Seventh Day Adventist. These “plant-based” diets have maintained their religiosity and zealotry. It’s not only a diet but an entire social identity tied into a readymade social movement. There is a reason that a much more scientifically-supported diet like the Mediterranean diet with no origins in religion doesn’t attract such a loyal following or gain such extremes of media and political attention. Even the carnivore diet, the equivalent extreme opposite of veganism, never draws as much interest. Or take the keto diet that has been scientifically studied for a century or other low-carb diets that have been scientifically studied going back to the 19th century. None of these other diets have ever been turned into sociopolitical movements that make arguments about it being the End Times and so we must convert to their dietary promise of salvation.

This goes deep into our cultural inheritance. As I’ve noted before, social control as dietary control has a long history in Western civilization and is rooted in Christian authority as seen in Medieval food laws and in theology of the sins of gluttony and sloth (The Agricultural Mind & Diets and Systems), the latter is discussed by Gary Taubes. This Christian belief often expresses as an idealism and paternalism that, in the modern world, often expresses as techno-utopianism and technocracy (Hubris of Nutritionism) with the key example being EAT-Lancet. The vegan argument is that we can separate ourselves from the cycle of life and death. That is essentially a Christian argument for an idealized Heaven that transcends this fallen world. The reality, though, is that veganism is part of an industrial system that wreaks immense havoc. Vegans aren’t above it all. The only way they could attain their moral innocence and purity would be by living in isolated and self-contained bunkers that were disconnected from all ecosystems and where all food was industrially-produced or lab-grown, and so no life would be harmed because no life would be possible other than human life and the microbes that inhabit us. That is the ultimate conclusion of vegan idealism of harm-free diet and food system.

I doubt this utopianism is possible. It’s a death denial. It’s similar to many right-wing libertarians I’ve come across who are former fundamentalists, in how they go from hoping for eternity in Heaven to fantasizing about cryogenic immortality and space stations among the stars. It’s a desire to be free of the messy complications of earthly life. On the opposite side of this dualistic worldview are those like neocons, kleptocrats, corporatocrats, etc as death-mongers who, rather than denying it, want to rule over the world of misery and decay like gnostic demiurges. Between these demented extremes, there can be no genuine moderation and balance, no real world solution. The idea of sustainability through regenerative farming doesn’t fit into this entire ideological paradigm. Actual sustainability would be revolutionary. Interestingly, both sides of the mainstream debate are fighting back against this revolutionary possibility. In fact, both sides have a secret compact. Look at EAT-Lancet where idealistic vegans, if unknowingly (?), have formed an alliance with Machiavellian industrialists. Both sides, supposedly in opposition, are working together to ensure that health and sustainability never happens.

In an email, Fabrice DeClerck, science director of the EAT-Lancet Commission, admitted that, “the meat consumption limits proposed by the Commission were not set due to environmental considerations, but were solely in light of health recommendations.”(Frank M. Mitloehner, EAT-Lancet’s environmental claims are an epic fail. And the Commission knows it.). But if you closely read the EAT-Lancet report, they point to all the exceptions of people who wouldn’t be healthy on this diet and basically admit that the dietary recommendations don’t apply to most of the global population. Besides, the food industry contributes less to carbon emissions than does the healthcare industry. Mostly or entirely plant-based diets, in creating ill health and greater demand for healthcare, would increase carbon emissions; and that would be true even in ignoring the carbon emissions from industrial agriculture. So, what exactly is the effective agenda, as opposed to empty rhetoric, of something like EAT-Lancet and The Game Changers? We are forced to conclude that the branded identity of “plant-based” diets has become just another product to be sold by big biz. Health and sustainability is irrelevant.

* * *

EAT-Lancet Supported by Massive Food/Pharma/Chemical Industries. A Look At the Interests Behind This Report.
by Nina Teicholz

The Corporate Interests Behind EAT-Lancet

EAT-Lancet was launched simultaneously in 40 cities with a massive PR budget. Who funded all this? All we know is that EAT has an extensive array of corporate partnerships.

Tim Rees of Nutritional Therapy Online created a table of all the EAT-Lancet corporate funders. These include;

—Seven Big Pharma companies, with drugs for many nutrition-related diseases

—About 20 Big Food companies, including Kellogg’s, Nestle, and PepsiCo.

Note that the companies selling highly processed foods, like Nestle and Kellogg’s are essentially vegan. The vast majority of packaged foods sold on the inner aisles of supermarkets—cookies, crackers, chips (crisps), candy, cereals—are made up of the same basic ingredients: soy, corn, grains, sugars, and salt. This is vegan. These companies would presumably like nothing more than to but a big green V on their packages to give them a reason to advertise their foods as healthy.

Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical companies profit from selling drugs, insulin, and devices that sick people need. Would these companies be backing EAT if this diet were to genuinely improve health, reduce disease, and thus, shrink their profits? It’s hard to imagine.

Moreover, also supporting the EAT-Lancet report are:

—14 chemical companies, including BASF, the “world’s largest chemical company.”

What is the interest of these companies in supporting a report targeting animal agriculture as the main driver of global warming if not—perhaps—to displace attention away from their own polluting activities? Or perhaps they make the pesticides that grow crops.

One cannot know the answer to all these questions, but the massive level of corporate backing clearly raises serious questions about the interests behind this report, especially when there is no rigorous evidence to support the idea that this diet promotes human health and quite a bit of evidence to show that it causes harm.

* * *

Videos:

From video directly above:

Frédéric Leroy talking about the business of “plant-based” fake foods that are industrially-produced, highly-processed, and additive-filled: egg-free eggs, milk-free milks, hamburger-free burgers, etc (from above video):

“You have to mimic something extremely complex and you need a lot of technology to do so. Now you could say this is the future food only to a minority. We don’t really have to mind it all that much. It’s just a couple of people. And you know, soon it will pass. And it’s just one of those things that food industry comes up with. But this narrative is starting to cross a certain line which I find quite concerning.

“Now I’ll present you here to a tweet from the official account of UN Environment. I’ll read it to you: “So warning no meat was used in the following video. Cutting back on meat is an essential part of preventing the degradation of our environment.” And then the most worrisome part: “Mainstreaming meatless burgers benefit businesses, consumers & our planet.” Now it has a little video that goes with this. And in the video you see that in 2018 UN Environment has declared Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats as champions of the earth.

“Now we’ve just seen Beyond Meat. It was the burger I just showed you before. Impossible Foods is a similar company and this company has also as a goal to eliminate the need for animals in the food chain by 2035. So let this sink in for a minute. We have an official account of the United Nations promoting ultra-processed foods and an extreme agenda.

“At this point I would like to introduce you to something that is called the pharmakon. I think it’s a useful concept to look at this problem. The pharmakon is a philosophical idea that has been used by Jacques Derrida in the previous century and goes all the way back to Plato. Now pharmakon is a substance that is both beneficial and harmful. So it’s something that is at the same time a cure and a poison. And you see that also in the concept of pharmacists, in the word pharmacy. The pharmacy sells medicine which is, at the same time, a bit of poison.

“See what it’s coming from. And I would say that meat is a perfect example of the pharmakon. And that is because one side of society would refer to meat as something nourishing. That’s a long-standing connotation, to offer you strength, vitality, and nutrients. And at the same time, another narrative would state that it causes cancer, it will kill you, and all sorts of things. Now, the pharmakon concept has been used in philosophy to expose Western thinking for being binary and reductionist. And you have this tension here at play and such attention always brings about another concept which is called pharmakos. Pharmakos is Greek for scapegoat. So one of these ideas has to go out. So you’re scapegoating something. Meat has become a scapegoat and we’ll come back to this.

“What I find particularly toxic is that this narrative gets propagated by mass media. You may know or not know that The Guardian has received a substantial amount of money to publish a series called animals farmed which goal is to depict animal agriculture as harmful to humans, the planet, animals, etc. Now this money is originating from the Open Philanthropy Project which is also an investor in Impossible Foods, by the way.

“Last year we published a study that looked into discourses in the Daily Mail. Now the Daily Mail is another major British newspaper and what we have done is analyzing every single article that was published dealing with meat and health during 15 years, so the first 15 years of the century. And we have quantified certain aspects. We also have done discourse analysis. And what we found is that it’s not all that much about science, but it is about post-truth being prone to cherry-picking invention effects.

“So it’s not about the facts that such is how you put them together and you create a storyline. And it is also about the attention economy and that has to do with the way those kind of mass media systems are financed. So they’re financed by advertisers and those advertisers want clickbait. That’s how how you generate income. So the more attractive you make your headlines the more money it brings in. So you’ll end up with these screaming headlines. This is an example. It’s also an example of a pharmakon. This is the British breakfast the British fry up. One article in The Daily Mail stated that is the healthiest breakfast of all and another one states that it may raise risk of bowel cancer by 60%. So how to confuse your public.

“And you can say, well this is the Daily Mail. It’s a sensationalist newspaper in the first place. But what we have seen is that it has not always been the case, at least not to the same extent. Now in the first years of the period, we notice that the headlines were quite moderate. We’ve seen an increase, as you can see in the graph over there. We’ve seen an increase in the length of the title’s over the years, especially starting after 2005-2006, and also more sensationalism within those headlines.

“One of the headlines, for instance, taken from 2006, “Red meat can raise cancer risk,” which I would say is a fair headline. You can discuss about those things, but as a headline it’s pretty much okay. The ones you get at the later stages, well you see a couple of examples on the right side. If you want to see the other ones, you can find them in my paper. But some of them are really interesting. Just to give an example: “Why feasting on steak makes it difficult for men to father a child (it makes their sperm slow),” “Vegetarians have a better sex life,” etc. etc.

“A very interesting one — and it’s also the point where we stopped our analysis — was the one from 2015 at the bottom. Let me zoom into this one: “Bacon, burgers, and sausages are a cancer risk, say World Health Chiefs.” And then they compare processed meats to cigarettes and asbestos. Now this refers to the IRC/WHO report, World Health Organization. And this is of course not what the report is saying, but this is what the Daily Mail made out of it. And what you see here is very important, “World Health Chiefs,” because this shows you that authority is stepping in. So you will have appeal to authority, which is reinforced I would say from 2015 on. It’s very hard to argue about place of red meat and processed meats if you have to face authority because people will always refer, yes but WHO said, and that blocks a lot of the debate. Now what you can notice is that it’s a very strong authority.”

Documentaries/Shows:

(lists here & here)

The Perfect Human Diet

The Magic Pill
The Paleo Way
Love Paleo
My Big Fat Diet
Fed Up
Fat Head
Fat: A Documentary
Globesity
Cholesterol, The Great Bluff
Statin Nation
Carb Loaded
What’s With Wheat?
Is Sugar the New Fat?
Sugar Blues
That Sugar Film
The Big Fat Surprise (in production)

Books:

James Suzman – Affluence without Abundance
John Gowdy – Limited Wants, Unlimited Means
Marshall Sahlins – Stone Age Economics
Christopher Ryan – Civilized to Death
Murray Bookchin – The Ecology of Freedom; & Post-Scarcity Anarchism
George Monbiot – Feral; & How Did We Get Into This Mess?
Derrick Jensen – A Language Older Than Words; The Culture of Make Believe; Railroads and Clearcuts; & Strangely Like War
Abdullah Öcalan – Civilization: The Age of Masked Gods and Disguised Kings; & Capitalism: The Age of Unmasked Gods and Naked Kings
James Scott – Against the Grain; Seeing Like a State; & The Art of Not Being Governed
John Zerzan – A People’s History of Civilization; Why Hope?; Future Primitive; Future Primitive Revisited; Twilight of the Machines; & Running on Emptiness
Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs, and Steel; Crisis; Upheaval; Collapse; & The World Until Yesterday
Joseph Tainter – The Collapse of Complex Societies
William Ophuls – Immoderate Greatness; & Plato’s Revenge
William Ruddiman – Earth Transformed; & Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum
William Catton – Overshoot
Andrew Rimas & Evan Fraser – Empires of Food
Marcel Mazoyer & Laurence Roudart – A History of World Agriculture
Richard Manning – Against the Grain; Grassland; Rewilding the West; & Go Wild
David Montgomery – Dirt; Growing a Revolution; & The Hidden Half of Nature
Wendell Berry – The Unsettling of America
Laura Lengnick – Resilient Agriculture
Gabe Brown – Dirt to Soil
Joel Salatin – Folks, This Ain’t Normal; & Salad Bar Beef
Judith Schwartz – Cows Save the Planet
Graham Harvey – Grass-Fed Nation; & The Killing Of The Countryside
Allan Savory – The Grazing Revolution; & Greening the Desert
Paul Shepard – Traces of an Omnivore; Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game; Coming Home to the Pleistocene; The Only World We Got; The Others; Thinking Animals; Man in the Landscape; & Nature and Madness
Tovar Cerulli – The Mindful Carnivore
Lierre Keith – The Vegetarian Myth
Mara Kahn – Vegan Betrayal
Natasha Campbell-McBride – Vegetarianism Explained
Michael Crawford & David Marsh – Nutrition and Evolution
John Nicholson – The Meat Fix
Harlan Walker – The Fat of the Land; & Disappearing Foods
Vilhjalmur Stefansson – The Fat of the Land
Shawn Baker – The Carnivore Diet
Susan Allport – The Queen of Fats; & The Primal Feast
Samuel Pepys – Fat is Our Friend
Gary Taubes – Good Calories, Bad Calories; The Case Against Sugar; & Why We Get Fat
Nina Teicholz – The Big Fat Surprise
Nicolas Rasmussen – Fat in the Fifties
Zoë Harcombe –The Obesity Epidemic
Carl Lavie –The Obesity Paradox
Tim Noakes – Lore of Nutrition; Real Food On Trial; Challenging Beliefs; & The Real Meal Revolution
Tim Noakes et al – Diabetes Unpacked
Richard Feinman – Nutrition in Crisis; & The World Turned Upside Down
April Merleaux – Sugar and Civilization
James Walvin – Sugar: The World Corrupted: From Slavery to Obesity
Elizabeth Abbott – Sugar: A Bittersweet History
Rebecca Earle – The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492–1700
Michael LaCombe – Political Gastronomy: Food and Authority in the English Atlantic World
Henry Notaker – A History of Cookbooks
Sarah Walden – Tasteful Domesticity
John Coveney – Food, Morals and Meaning; & Food
Susan Friedland – Food and Morality; & Vegetables
Kathleen LeBesco & Peter Naccarato – Edible Ideologies
James McWilliams – A Revolution in Eating
Anne Wilbraham & J.C. Drummond – The Englishman’s Food
Sandra Oliver – Food in Colonial and Federal America
Ken Albala – Eating Right in the Renaissance; Food in Early Modern Europe; Food and Faith in Christian Culture; & Wild Food
Trudy Eden – Cooking in America, 1590-1840
Katherine Leonard Turner – How the Other Half Ate
Abigail Carroll – Three Squares
Bee Wilson – The Way We Eat Now
Harvey Levenstein – Fear of Food
Tristram Stuart – The Bloodless Revolution
Adam Shprintzen – The Vegetarian Crusade
Benjamin Zeller et al – Religion, Food, and Eating in North America
Ronald Numbers – Prophetess of Health
Howard Markel – The Kelloggs
Brian Wilson – Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living
Katharina Vestern – A Taste of Power
S. Margot Finn – Discriminating Taste
Helen Zoe Veitn – Modern Food, Moral Food
Julie Guthman – Weighing In
Louise Foxcroft – Calories and Corsets
E. Melanie DuPuis – Dangerous Digestion
Kyla Tompkins – Racial Indigestion
Lizzie Collingham – The Taste of Empire; & The Taste of War
Bryan McDonald – Food Power
Anastacia Marx de Salcedo – Combat-Ready Kitchen
Susan Levine – School Lunch Politics
Denise Minger – Death by Food Pyramid
Joanna Blythman – Swallow This
Krisin Lawless – Formerly Known as Food
Marion Nestle – Food Politics; & Unsavory Truth
Michael Carolan – Embodied Food Politics
Carl Cederström & Andre Spicer – The Wellness Syndrome
Charlotte Biltekoff – Eating Right in America
Gerardo Otero – The Neoliberal Diet
Alyshia Gálvez – Eating NAFTA
Andrew Fisher – Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups
Michele Payn – Food Bullying; Food Truths; & No More Food Fights!
Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, & Sinikka Elliott – Pressure Cooker
Anna Kirkland & Jonathan Metzl – Against Health
Verner Wheelock – Healthy Eating
Loren Cordain – The Paleo Diet; & The Paleo Answer
Robb Wolf – The Paleo Solution
Mark Sisson – The Primal Blueprint
John Durant – The Paleo Manifesto
Jack Wolfson – The Paleo Cardiologist
Fred Provenza – Nourishment
Nora T. Gedgaudas – Primal Body, Primal Mind
Sally Fallon Morell – Nourishing Diets
Catherine Shanahan – Food Rules; & Deep Nutrition
Sarah Ballantyne – The Paleo Approach; & Paleo Principles
Valerie Bracken – My Life without Bread; Uncle Wolfi’s Secret; & Dr Wolfgang Lutz and his Chickens
Konstantin Monastyrsky – Fiber Menace
Steven Gundry – The Plant Paradox
David Perlmutter – Grain Brain
William Davis – Wheat Belly; & Undoctored
Richard Harris – Rigor Mortis
Ken Berry – Lies My Doctor Told Me
Malcolm Kendrick – Doctoring Data; The Great Cholesterol Con; & Fat and Cholesterol Don’t Cause Heart Attacks and Statins Are Not The Solution
Uffe Ravnskov – The Cholesteol Myths; Fat and Cholesterol are GOOD for You; & Ignore the Awkward!
David Evans – Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Prevent Heart Disease; & Low Cholesterol Leads to an Early Death
Jack Kruse – Epi-paleo Rx
Daniel Lieberman – The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease
Christopher James Clark – Nutritional Grail
Stephen Simpson & David Raubenheimer – The Nature of Nutrition
Stephen Hussey – The Health Evolution
Barry Groves – Trick and Treat
Eric Westman & Jimmy Moore – Cholesterol Clarity; & Keto Clarity
Stephen Phinney & Jeff Volek – The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living
Eric Kossoff, John Freeman, Turner Zahava, & James Rubenstein – Ketogenic Diets
Susan Masino – Ketogenic Diet and Metabolic Therapies
Mackenzie Cervenka – The Ketogenic and Modified Atkins Diets
Thomas Seyfried – Cancer as a Metabolic Disease
Travis Christofferson – Tripping Over the Truth; & Curable
Miriam Kalamian – Keto for Cancer
Nasha Winters & Jess Higgins Kelley – The Metabolic Approach to Cancer
Siim Land – Metabolic Autophagy
Jason Fung – The Obesity Code; & The Diabetes Code
A. Simmonds – Principia Ketogenica
Jacob Wilson & Ryan Lowery – The Ketogenic Bible
Mary Newport – The Complete Book of Ketones; & The Coconut Oil and Low-Carb Solution for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Other Diseases
Amy Berger – The Alzheimer’s Antidote
Dale Bredesen – The End of Alzheimer’s
Terry Wahls – The Wahls Protocol
Carol Simontacchi – The Crazy Makers
John Yudkin – Pure, White and Deadly
Robert Lustig – Fat Chance; & The Hacking of the American Mind
E. M. Abrahamson – Body, Mind, & Sugar
David Courtwright – The Age of Addiction
Sally Fallon Morrell – Nourishing Fats; Nourishing Traditions; & Nourishing Diets
Weston A. Price – Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
Francis Marion Pottenger Jr. – Pottenger’s Cats: A Study in Nutrition
Kate Rheaume-Bleue – Vitamin K2 And The Calcium Paradox
Paul Greenberg – The Omega Principle
Gyorgy Scrinis – Nutritionism
Catherine Price – Vitamania
Lee McDowell – Vitamin History, the Early Years; & Mineral Nutrition History, The Early Years
Jessica Mudry – Measured Meals

Blogs/Websites:

(recommendations here)

Gary Taubes
Nina Teicholz
Tim Noakes
Richard David Feinman
Mary Newport
Robert Lustig
Gary Fettke
Jeff Volek
Stephen Phinney
Loren Cordain
Robb Wolf
Mark Sisson
Malcolm Kendrick
Ken Berry
Nora Gedgaudas
John Durant
Jimmy Moore
Pete Evans
Zoë Harcombe
Chris Kresser
Chris Masterjohn
Sarah Ballantyne
Catherine Shanahan
Shawn Baker
Lierre Keith
Terry Wahls
Will Cole
Siim Land
Josh Axe
Dave Asprey
Mark Hyman
Joseph Mercola
David Perlmutter
William Davis
Jimmy Moore
Natasha Campbell-McBride
Joanna Blythman
Kristin Lawless
Paleohacks
The Weston A. Price Foundation
Price-Pottenger
Ketopedia

Voices Crazy and Silenced

As has been in the news, ABC cancelled the revamped tv show Roseanne. It was essentially the firing of the lead actress, Roseanne Barr, for a racist tweet. If it were only so easy to fire the ruling elite, cretinous cronyists that they are, for things as bad and far worse. It’s a sign of the times that a mad man is the head of state who brings out the craziness in supporters and detractors alike.

Some people who know Barr have pointed out that she has dealt with severe mental illness for decades, severe in the sense of including but not limited to split personality. But that is background info. And as many would point out in response, white people are always being given that excuse whenever they do something horrible, even if in this case it is a genuine explanation for her wildly inconsistent ideological views and amazing lack of impulse control.

As far as that goes, the entire United States at present is experiencing a plague of mental illness — with rising rates of depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide, mass violence, etc. This is the result of the highest levels of social, political, and economic inequality seen in world history. This has been proven as a major factor in societal stress and breakdown (see Kate Pickett & Richard Wilkinson’s The Spirit Level, Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder, and Walter Scheidell’s The Great Leveller). American society itself is going insane, the entire society across the political spectrum and in both parties.

That isn’t something to be dismissed. We’ll be seeing more of this kind of thing. It will get worse and worse, until finally hitting a breaking point. That isn’t an excuse for the misbehavior of white privilege or class privilege. It’s an explanation and, more importantly, a warning. Even the rich, powerful, and famous are going off the deep end. And we are beginning to see the elite turn on each other, one of the last signs before precipitous collapse or else authoritarian takeover. Prepare yourself. It ain’t gonna be pretty.

None of that is precisely the main point I want to make. It’s been known for a long time that Roseanne Barr was mentally unstable. Besides, she has years of repeated outspoken and public bigotry. What is worrisome is that, as ABC management had to have already known this, we are forced to assume that they made an economic bet that the short term profit of exploiting a crazy bigot would win over the possibility of being held to account for long term consequences. They lost that bet and so are now trying to cut their losses. But within the dominant system, it seemed like an economically rational decision because much of Barr’s past bigotry targeted expendable scapegoats, Arabs and Palestinians, who were socially acceptable and politically correct.

Anyway, Barr’s bigotry is small time stuff, in and of itself not being of great concern to a media giant. ABC was willing to promote a bigot like Barr for the same reason the corporate (and corporatist) media gave so much free airtime to Donald Trump as presidential candidate. It was the profitable thing to do at the time and, within a plutocratic system, profit and power go hand in hand which has been exacerbated as big biz media became ever bigger with consolidation (along with the parent companies of media increasingly tied to big energy and the military-industrial complex). It is also why corporate media regularly promotes even greater evils by beating the drum for wars of aggression, pushing neo-imperialist propaganda, and giving cover for war crimes — no matter how many millions of innocent people are harmed and traumatized, dislocated and killed. Follow the money.

Now we are getting to the nub of the problem. Corporations these past years have been quick to use censorship to shut down alternative media and outside voices, both left and right, with claims of protecting Americans from fake news, Russian trolls, or whatever other rationalization they invent (not to say there aren’t real threats to democracy, but the greatest threat within capitalist realism is big biz itself). The victims of this censorship onslaught aren’t only crazy bigots, reactionary trolls, and such for also included have been major media personalities and radical critics such as Jimmy Dore. Those outside of the ruling establishment have lost access to advertising dollars on Youtube, been eliminated from Google search results, had accounts suspended on Facebook and Twitter, etc. This is combined with corporate media shutting down comments sections (and public media has become about as corporate as the rest).

As public opinion further sides with alternative media views, public opinion and alternative media are further silenced. The ruling elite are losing control of the narrative. But as they try to aggressively regain and oppressively enforce control, they will ever more lose control. It is the death spiral of a social order that has gone out of control. More people will feel more silenced, more powerless, more disenfranchised, and more frustrated. And with every person who is silenced and unheard, dismissed and ignored, we move closer to greater public unrest, social disruption, and tumultuous change. In playing this game, the capitalist class might find that they have slit their own throats. We are already so close to boiling point and it won’t take much to finally boil over. And the process will be messy.

Rich, privileged, crazy assholes like Barr and Trump are the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t seen full-on crazy yet. The descent into madness is coming. Buckle up!

As always, I should add that I’m not advocating revolution. My lifelong inclination has been toward pansy liberalism in wondering why can’t we all just get along and in hoping that democratic reform from within the system would work out in the end. But the ruling elite and cynical hacks, mindless partisans and lesser-evil voters refused to go the easy way. They refused to listen to the voices of moderation and reason. Now, along with the rest of us, they will suffer the consequences of the decades-long decline into corruption, failure, and injustice. What the American Empire did to others will be done to us. What the comfortable classes did to the poor, whites to non-whites, Christians to non-Christians will be returned in kind. The consequences can be delayed for a while, but not denied. Corporate media implementing perception and opinion management won’t save the social order from the establishment’s own self-destructively suicidal tendencies.

The crazies will get crazier, as will we all in losing our collective bearings. It is what it is. At this point, it doesn’t matter what any of us wants or hopes for. Societies change not because of ideological schemes and utopian dreams but, first and foremost, because the old order stops functioning. We are going to have to pass through dark times to see what, if anything, is on the other side of the storm.

Powerful Conspiracies & Open Secrets

Why do so many Americans, including the well educated, know so little about how power operates? There is a naivete that dominates the mainstream mind, in how the sociopolitical reality tunnel is mediated by way of corporate media, think tanks, perception management, etc.

The most powerful conspiracies often operate as open secrets. The conspirators, not that they think of themselves that way, don’t worry about exposure because the public is kept in a permanent state of apathetic ignorance. The alternative media and foreign media that investigates and reports on these conspiracies rarely reaches the American audience. Nor do those in domestic corporate media and among the domestic political elite necessarily get much exposure to other views, as they are as trapped in echo chambers and media bubbles as anyone else. It’s a shared condition of mediated reality.

If mainstream media reporting and the political narrative is controlled, then control can be maintained of public perception and opinion. Truth doesn’t matter when truth has been made invisible and irrelevant to most of the targeted population. As long as the official story is repeated enough, few will question it and the few who do will be dismissed as cranks and conspiracy theorists, not that most will even take notice. A news report might occasionally surface, barely touching upon it, only to disappear once again. The very casual and fleeting treatment of the incident communicates and reinforces its insignificance to the audience.

Conspiracies are easy, as long as there is an established system of persuasion and influence. It doesn’t require a secret cabal operating in a dark room. Those in positions of power and authority, including media personalities, live in the same world and share the same vested interests. Like the rest of the population, those in the upper classes come to believe the stories they tell. The first victim of propaganda are the propagandists, as any con man has to first con himself. And humans are talented at rationalizing.

Truth is easily sacrificed, just as easily as it is ignored, even for those who know better. We simultaneously know and don’t know all kinds of things. In a cynical age such as ours, a conspiracy doesn’t seem like a conspiracy when it operates out in the open. We take it as business as usual, the way power always operates. The greatest conspiracy is our collective blindness and silence.

* * *

Daniel Ellsberg’s Advice for How to Stop Current and Future Wars
by Norman Solomon

Daniel Ellsberg has a message that managers of the warfare state don’t want people to hear.

“If you have information that bears on deception or illegality in pursuing wrongful policies or an aggressive war,” he said in a statement released last week, “don’t wait to put that out and think about it, consider acting in a timely way at whatever cost to yourself. … Do what Katharine Gun did.”

If you don’t know what Katharine Gun did, chalk that up to the media power of the war system.

Ellsberg’s video statement went public as this month began, just before the 15th anniversary of the revelation by a British newspaper, the Observer, of a secret NSA memo—thanks to Katharine Gun. At the UK’s intelligence agency GCHQ, about 100 people received the same email memo from the National Security Agency on the last day of January 2003, seven weeks before the invasion of Iraq got underway. Only Katharine Gun, at great personal risk, decided to leak the document.

If more people had taken such risks in early 2003, the Iraq War might have been prevented. If more people were willing to take such risks in 2018, the current military slaughter in several nations, mainly funded by U.S. taxpayers, might be curtailed if not stopped. Blockage of information about past whistleblowing deprives the public of inspiring role models.

That’s the kind of reality George Orwell was referring to when he wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” […]

Katharine Gun foiled that plan. While scarcely reported in the U.S. media (despite cutting-edge news releases produced by my colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy beginning in early March of 2003), the revelations published by the Observer caused huge media coverage across much of the globe—and sparked outrage in several countries with seats on the Security Council.

“In the rest of the world, there was great interest in the fact that American intelligence agencies were interfering with their policies of their representatives in the Security Council,” Ellsberg noted. A result was that for some governments on the Security Council at the time, the leak “made it impossible for their representatives to support the U.S. wish to legitimize this clear case of aggression against Iraq. So the U.S. had to give up its plan to get a supporting vote in the UN.” The U.S. and British governments “went ahead anyway, but without the legitimating precedent of an aggressive war that would have had, I think, many consequences later.”

The BBC’s disgraceful attempt at a McCarthyist-style shaping public of perceptions and flouting impartiality rule
by Kitty S. Jones

One source of media bias is a failure to include a perspective, viewpoint or information within a news story that might be objectively regarded as being important. This is important because exclusion of a particular viewpoint or opinion on a subject might be expected to shift the ‘Overton Window’, defining what it is politically acceptable to say. This can happen in such a way that a viewpoint becomes entirely eliminated or marginalised from political discourse. Within academic media theory, there is a line of reasoning that media influence on audiences is not immediate but occurs more through a continual process of repeated arguments – the ‘steady drip’ effect.

A second potential source of bias is ‘bias by selection’. This might entail particular issues or viewpoints being more frequently covered, or certain guests or organisations being more likely to be selected. There are several others, for some of which the BBC has regularly been criticised.

Herman and Chomsky (1988) proposed a propaganda model hypothesising systematic biases of media from structural economic causes. Their proposition is that media ownership by corporations, (and in other media, funding from advertising), the use of official sources, efforts to discredit independent media (“flak”), and “anti-communist“ ideology as the filters that bias news in favour of corporate and partisan political interests.

Politically biased messages may be conveyed via visual cues from the sets as a kind of underhanded reference-dependent framing. A frame defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others. It entails the selection of some aspects of a perceived reality and makes them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and so on. […]

As Walter Lipman once noted, the news media are a primary source of those “pictures in our heads” about the larger world of public affairs, a world that for most citizens is “out of reach, out of sight, out of mind.” What people know about the world is largely based on what the media decide to show them. More specifically, the result of this mediated view of the world is that the priorities of the media strongly influence the priorities of the public. Elements prominent on the media agenda become prominent in the public mind.

Given the reduction in sophistication and rationality in government rhetoric, media news and current affairs presentation, (and reduction in democratic accountability, for that matter) we don’t currently have a climate that particularly encourages citizens to think critically and for themselves.

* * *

On a related topic, Kitty S. Jones has another piece she just put up. It is about how we are influenced. This is also a bit of an open secret. There has been some leaks about it, along with some investigative reporting. Yet the average American remains uninformed and unaware or else not comprehending or taking seriously the threat.

The fact of the matter is that a conspiracy to influence is as easy to accomplish as anything else. We are surrounded by highly effective conspiracies to influence us, many that operate out in the open and still we rarely notice them. They are the air we breathe in a cynical society such as this. They have become normalized and so we have stopped being shocked by how far the powerful are willing to go.

It would be depressingly naive to dismiss this as the rantings of conspiracy theorists. This is one of the most central concerns of anyone who both understands what democracy is and why it matters. We either want a free society or not. When we find ourselves being kept in the dark, the first thing to do is to turn on a light and look around to see what is going on, no matter how ugly is the reality we see and no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

Here is Jones’ most recent post:

Cambridge Analytica, the commodification of voter decision-making and marketisation of democracy
by Kitty S Jones

It’s not such a big inferential leap to conclude that governments are attempting to manage legitimate criticism and opposition while stage-managing our democracy.

I don’t differentiate a great deal between the behavioural insights team at the heart of the Conservative cabinet office, and the dark world of PR and ‘big data’ and ‘strategic communications’ companies like Cambridge Analytica. The political misuse of psychology has been disguised as some kind of technocratic “fix” for a failing neoliberal paradigm, and paraded as neutral “science”.

However, its role as an authoritarian prop for an ideological imposition on the population has always been apparent to some of us, because the bottom line is that it is all about influencing people’s perceptions and decisions, using psychological warfare strategies.

The Conservatives’ behaviour change agenda is designed to align citizen’s perceptions and behaviours with neoliberal ideology and the interests of the state. However, in democratic societies, governments are traditionally elected to reflect and meet public needs. The use of “behaviour change” policy involves the state acting upon individuals, and instructing them how they must be.

Last year, I wrote a detailed article about some of these issues, including discussion of Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in data mining and the political ‘dark’ advertising that is only seen by its intended recipients. This is a much greater cause for concern than “fake news” in the spread of misinformation, because it is invisible to everyone but the person being targeted. This means that the individually tailored messages are not open to public scrutiny, nor are they fact checked.

A further problem is that no-one is monitoring the impact of the tailored messages and the potential to cause harm to individuals. The dark adverts are designed to exploit people’s psychological vulnerabilities, using personality profiling, which is controversial in itself. Intentionally generating and manipulating fear and anxiety to influence political outcomes isn’t a new thing. Despots have been using fear and slightly less subtle types of citizen “behaviour change” programmes for a long time.

* * *

In Kitty S. Jones’ above linked piece, she refers to an article that makes clear the dangerous consequences of covert anti-democratic tactics. This is reminiscent of the bad ol’ days of COINTELPRO, one of the many other proven government conspiracies. If this doesn’t wake you up, you must be deep asleep.

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations
by Glenn Greenwald

One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.

Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series of articles about “dirty trick” tactics used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). These were based on four classified GCHQ documents presented to the NSA and the other three partners in the English-speaking “Five Eyes” alliance. Today, we at the Intercept are publishing another new JTRIG document, in full, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.”

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. […]

These agencies’ refusal to “comment on intelligence matters” – meaning: talk at all about anything and everything they do – is precisely why whistleblowing is so urgent, the journalism that supports it so clearly in the public interest, and the increasingly unhinged attacks by these agencies so easy to understand. Claims that government agencies are infiltrating online communities and engaging in “false flag operations” to discredit targets are often dismissed as conspiracy theories, but these documents leave no doubt they are doing precisely that.

Whatever else is true, no government should be able to engage in these tactics: what justification is there for having government agencies target people – who have been charged with no crime – for reputation-destruction, infiltrate online political communities, and develop techniques for manipulating online discourse? But to allow those actions with no public knowledge or accountability is particularly unjustifiable.

Sacrifice of Liberal Pawns

In the establishment worldview, MSNBC is the most left-wing news source among the corporate media giants. What this means is that MSNBC serves the role as gatekeeper. This far left and no further. Compared to how far left the American majority is, MSNBC isn’t very left at all. The Silenced Majority holds positions that are portrayed as radical in corporate media, from progressive taxation to universal healthcare.

One of the most left-leaning commentators on MSNBC was Joan Walsh. But in reality, she was a mainstream liberal and a defender of the status quo of the Democratic political machine. She was one of the liberal class attack dogs who put the ‘Bernie Bros’ (i.e., progressive reformers) in their place, including the large numbers of ‘Bernie Bros’ who happened to be some combination of non-white and female.

One might note that right now Bernie Sanders support is stronger among non-whites and females than among whites and males. It wasn’t accidental that Sanders spoke for policies that were straight down the center of public opinion. He was the voice of the average American. And that put the likes of Walsh in an uncomfortable position in being to the right of the American public.

Walsh went so far as to help promote the ‘alt-left’ framing that dismissed anyone to the left of the center-right Clinton Democrats. She was one of the main voices that turned it into yet another mainstream talking point — for example tweeting that, “At what point do some of these guys become the alt-left, a less toxic but still racially blinkered version of the alt-right?” Or when she tweetedtweeted: “Never use the term BernieBros anymore. Now there are alt-left bros who think mocking Clinton supporters is doing political work.” (These Clinton Democrats are the same people who dismissed Barack Obama’s supporters as ‘Obama Boys’ and for a similar reason, as Obama made progressive promises to the left of Hillary Clinton.) In her disconnection from reality, Walsh was oblivious to the sad reality of shooting herself in the foot. There is no honor nor reward in doing the bidding of corrupt power.

As mild and  moderately tame as she was, Joan Walsh was still too far left for the corporatist elite who own the corporate media, who control debate and frame the issues. As the Democratic Party pushes even further right, even the most establishment of liberals are seen as a threat and must be eliminated. So MSNBC fired Joan Walsh as a contributor, while giving Trump apologist Hugh Hewitt his own show. When the political left has their greatest opportunity in opposing the most despised president in American history, the plutocracy makes sure to hobble the leftist movement and shut out even the weakest of liberal voices.

MSNBC is what gets labeled as ‘liberal’ media by those who wield power and influence, specifically among the consolidated ownership class of corporate media and their lackeys in determining which voices get heard and silenced. As the American public keeps going left, the American elite keep pushing right. Joan Walsh thought she was safe by being a lapdog of power. She attacked those left of her, only to find herself the new target. What ‘liberals’ like her don’t get is that the very reason a strong left is necessary is to keep liberals like her honest and to hold the line of battle. Without a strong left to strike fear in the ruling elite, liberals become useless even as pawns of power and gatekeepers of media.

Joan Walsh didn’t understand the game she was playing and so she was played for a fool by those who did understand. She became the victim of her own moral failure. It is political karma. If you don’t defend others against attacks from the right-wing and, worse still, join in those attacks, then who will remain to defend you from those same attackers? Sadly too late, the targeted liberal commentariat finds themselves as part of the ‘alt-left’ they once despised. Alt-left is now everything on the left, anyone who speaks out against the dominant right-wing power structure.

* * *

‘Bernie Bros’ and ‘Alt-Left’ Are Propaganda Terms Meant to Disempower
by Michael J. Sainato (on Reddit)

The Democratic Party derailed Bernie: How the establishment has worked to discredit Sanders’ movement
by Conor Lynch

On Being a Good Ally: The Handmaid’s Tale And the Specter of Fascism
by Adam Theron-Lee Rensch

Framing Free Speech

The news reporting, along with public debate, on free speech has been typical. It’s not just dissatisfying but frustrating. It pushes a narrative that infects many a mind, including more than a few outside of the ‘mainstream’.

I found an example of this, although I’m not in the mood to directly link to the piece. On the individual’s About page, he obviously prides himself on being an independent thinker who looks down upon ‘Puny mortals’ who “come by their worldviews by accepting in good faith what they have been told by people they perceive to be smarter or better informed than they.” He is so anarchist that he doesn’t think other anarchists are anarchist enough. Yet he is basing his own view on controlled rhetoric designed to manipulate public perception and opinion.

I guess he is so anarchist that he has looped back around to the other side of the spectrum, maybe with his anti-intellectualism trumping his anti-authoritarianism. After all, he describes himself as a white working class anarchist, which apparently means anyone with a college degree is his enemy, including working class traitors who decide to better themselves by seeking higher education. Or maybe he is simply yet another example of an ideologically confused American.

In the piece he wrote, he goes off on some weird sociopolitical rant. It has little connection to the larger world outside of an internet echo chamber. He is shadow boxing the phantasmagoric demons lurking inside his skull and apparently finds it to be a gleeful sport where, as he is the referee of this self-inflicted mental pugilism, he always wins. But what interests me is that his demons just so happen to take the shape of the caricatures portrayed in much of corporate media, with a clear right-wing slant of the populist variety. He writes that,

Well, unfortunately, because of recent riots at Berkeley, we can’t really say that anymore. Now, a lot of those involved or allied will say that, because this action was undertaken by a ‘rebel faction’, and not an established power, it’s actually a righteous insurrection, rather than authoritarian oppression. But given the fact that these are the children of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Microsoft, many of whom are ‘Trustifarians’, their proletarian cred is highly suspect. If you can afford to live and go to school in that area of the country, you probably do not come from a poor background.

It’s muddled thinking. This misses so much of the reality of the situation.

The protesters are a small group or, to be more accurate, a mix of small groups. Most of them may or may not be students at Berkeley. Many of them probably are locals or outside agitators taking advantage of the situation, an opportunity for two sides to fight and maybe having little to do with the student body itself. There could even be some agent provocateurs among them. There is absolutely no evidence that they represent most people who are either college students or on the political left. I doubt these people represent a ‘rebel faction’ either, whatever that is supposed to mean. For damn sure, I doubt that many of “the children of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Microsoft, many of whom are ‘Trustifarians’” are involved in political activism of the direct action variety, the kind that can lead to becoming a target of violent troublemakers or else violent police.

I share the words of this particular anarchist only because it captures the dark fantasy created by corporate media, especially right-wing media, although sadly much of the supposed ‘liberal’ media as well. It’s bizarre. And it is highly infectious.

Even if these protesters were all Berkeley students, one should note that a fair number of middle class and even working class people get into college. The majority of Berkeley students aren’t the inbred spawn of the plutocratic elite.

According to recent data: 99% of Berkeley students come from the bottom 99.9% in terms of family income, 96.2% from the bottom 99%, 77% from the bottom 97%, 62% from the bottom 90%, 46% from the bottom 80%, and 7.3% from the bottom 20%. Considering that Berkeley has about 40,000 enrolled, those poorest of Berkeley students number several thousand and there are 4.9% that “came from a poor family but became a rich adult.” Other data shows that, depending on class year and such, 21-32% of students have parents with income below $40,000, which would be around 8-12 thousand students. About a quarter of freshman and about half of transfers are the first generation in their families to attend college. I might add that the vast majority of Berkeley students are minorities, with less than a third of freshmen being caucasian.

It’s possible that the protest disproportionately attracted students from the lower classes and from among minority groups who have had a lifetime of dealing with prejudice, the kind of people more likely to be offended by rich white assholes like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos. From the same piece I initially quoted, the self-styled anarchist stated that, “You’re wrong about the working class, I hope they kick your Berkeley ass.” It’s not so clear to me who will be kicking whose ass, considering the demographics of Berkeley students and considering the real conflicts in our society. It is ludicrous to think it is the privileged rich white students who are protesting against these privilege rich white supremacists. As Alex Schmaus explains about an earlier protest, targeted minorities were fighting back against attempted oppression (The far right goes on a rampage in Berkeley):

It was rumored that Yiannopoulos would be launching a campaign to target undocumented students and their supporters on sanctuary campuses like Berkeley. But he and the College Republicans were unable to carry out this plan after they were confronted by some 2,000 or more students and community members chanting, “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!”

The February 1 protest was inaccurately portrayed in the media as violent because a contingent of 100 or so masked Black Bloc activists carried out their own unannounced action–starting more than an hour after the much larger picket had begun–setting off fireworks and smoke bombs, pulling down police barricades, breaking windows and starting fires.

Reports of small numbers of far-right Yiannopoulos supporters trying attempting to intimidate protesters were ignored in almost every mainstream media account. Eventually, university administrators canceled the event, citing safety concerns.

I have no idea who are all of the groups of people at the various protests. I’m sure they represent a diversity of people on all sides with various ideologies and agendas, along with many innocent bystanders who simply got caught up in altercations that escalated quickly. My point is that most people with opinions about such issues are speaking from ignorance and that includes most corporate media reporters. No one seems to bother to find out. That said, I bet the FBI knows the exact identity and maybe even ideology of nearly every person that showed up, not that the FBI is going to share that info with the rest of us.

Here is what bothers me most of all. The political right is so much more effective in silencing opposition and frustrating free speech. But they do so in a highly controlled and devious way. A conservative college would stifle the free speech of both speakers and protesters. So, there would be no protest because there would be no opportunity. Free speech would be snuffed out in the crib. There would be nothing to report because nothing would happen. The corporate media tends to ignore what doesn’t happen (i.e., the muzzled dog that doesn’t bark) and why it doesn’t happen. The lack of free speech on conservative campuses is accepted as normal, not worthy of investigating or reporting.

Why doesn’t anyone complain that conservative Christian colleges don’t regularly have as guest speakers such people as anti-authoritarian pacifists, welfare statists, proud communists, radical anarchists, secular atheists, intersectional feminists, LGBT activists, moral relativists, sexual libertines, Pagan practitioners, Islamic fundamentalists, and Palestinian freedom fighters? These colleges also receive government funding but, unlike the larger universities, simply ensure nothing that isn’t conservative ever makes it within their walls. There are few non-conservatives and non-Christians in a conservative Christian college, along with few such people ever invited to speak. As such, there is rarely anyone to protest or any event to be canceled. An event that is never allowed to be planned can’t be cancelled, much less protested. It’s exclusion by design and we the taxpayers fund it, as Katha Pollitt put it (The Schools Where Free Speech Goes to Die):

If students are being denied a broad, mind-stretching education at universities often considered among the best in the world, what about the biased, blinkered, partial education that students are receiving at religious colleges? What about the assumption that no changing of the mind shall be permitted? Isn’t education supposed to challenge one’s settled beliefs?

And with Title IX exemptions in hand, colleges are free to ban and expel LGBT students, discriminate against women, use the Bible as a science text, and fire professors who disagree—without putting their federal funding at risk. The truth-in-advertising principle may protect the right of private colleges to do this. But the last time I looked, separation of church and state was still in the Bill of Rights.

Conservatives create an entire echo chamber of institutions and media. They shut out all alternative voices. There isn’t allowed any perception of other views. Their idea of free speech is to allow everyone they agree with to speak freely. Then they complain that conservatives aren’t allowed to dominate all forums and platforms of speech throughout the rest of society.

Yet, conveniently, conservatives don’t seem bothered when leftists are oppressed by suppression of free speech, such as those fighting Zionist apartheid. Howard Schwartz, as one random example among many, lost his position at a university for his lack of groupthink support for Israeli apartheid. Also, consider all of the careers and lives destroyed during the Cold War because of accusations of communism or communist sympathy. If conservatives had the opportunity, most of them would enthusiastically have a new era of McCarthyism.

It’s understandable that conservatives deceptively push the narrative that more than a tiny percentage of people on the political left care about shutting down free speech. The fact of the matter is there are far more people on the right who fear free speech. But we’ve grown so cynical about right-wingers that we assume they always have bad intentions toward a functioning democracy and, as such, we’ve stopped holding them accountable. Instead, even the supposed ‘liberal’ media seeks to silence protesters by promoting this conservative narrative, without much concern about petty factual details.

Why doesn’t the ‘liberal’ corporate media regularly do some genuine investigative reporting? They could research the larger context of what is going on. They could interview people to find out who are those involved and not involved. They could look at all sides such as seeing the role of right-wing instigators and outside agitators in fomenting conflict and violence. They could do surveys to find out what are the actual views and values of various groups, instead of making false accusations and unsubstantiated generalizations.

But if the corporate media allowed that kind of journalism to become the norm, they would no longer be serving corporate interests in a corporatist system that pushes rhetoric to further divide the public, ensuring that actual democracy remains hobbled. And you can see how highly effective is this tactic. Consider again the example of the avowed anarchist who has been pulled into this divisive narrative framing, without even the slightest clue that he is being manipulated. As I often repeat, never doubt the power of propaganda, especially not in the US where the propaganda model of media is more pervasive and subtle than maybe any ever devised in all of world history.

This is similar to how the corporatist Democrats used their narratives of identity politics. Sanders’ supporters were called Bernie Bros, as young women were attacked as gender traitors and young minorities were ignored, as both had been won over by Sanders’ genuine progressivism. Similar to how college students are caricatured, Sanders’ supporters were portrayed as violent radicals who are a threat to the supposed moderate and mainstream ‘liberalism’ of the corporatist ruling elite, despite the fact that the majority of Americans agree with Sanders on major issues.

We Americans are so propagandized that most of us can’t see straight. We are drowning in a flood of bullshit. Fortunately, there are a few voices that manage to get heard, even occasionally in the broader public debate. Yet the dominant narratives never change, as they continue to frame nearly all discussion and reporting.

* * * *

Ann Coulter’s Berkeley controversy isn’t really about free speech.
by Juliet Kleber

As Aaron Hanlon argued in the New Republic earlier this week, choosing not to host Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos on campus is not a suppression of their free speech. Academia certainly has an important place in selecting and elevating certain voices to relevance in a broader culture, but let’s not forget that a college isn’t a town hall: it’s a particular community of people engaged in intersecting missions of education. Coulter is not a member of that community and she has no claims upon it. Campus life is curated, and none of us outside of it are guaranteed access to that platform. Aside from safety concerns, that doesn’t mean trying to cancel her appearance was necessarily the right decision—it very well may be true that students should challenge her views face-to-face—but doing so is still not a violation of her rights.

That cannot be said, however, of the Fordham case. As Singal notes, Fordham is a private university, and as such the question of free speech in this case relates not to the Constitution but the university’s own policies. But unlike Coulter, who has a regular platform on television and in publishing, the students of Fordham are truly limited by what their university will and will not allow as protected speech. Those students have been denied the opportunity to engage in the political action they find meaningful. They have been punished for peacefully protesting that decision. At Berkeley, the College Republicans who invited Ann Coulter to speak presumably retain their official club status and likely their budget.

Berkeley Has NOT Violated Ann Coulter’s Free Speech Rights
by Robert Cohen

It was only after an ugly riot and arson by non-student anarchists on the night of the Yiannopoulos talk (leaving more than $100,000 in property damage on the Berkeley campus) that the chancellor reluctantly canceled the talk in the interests of public safety.

Fearing a recurrence of the Yiannopoulos violence, the Berkeley administration sought to postpone Coulter’s speech, and in the end asked that in the interest of security it be delayed a week. The administration cited threats it had received against Coulter, which is not surprising given that she is an intemperate nativist. Coulter and her College Republican and Young American Foundation sponsors responded with claims that the administration was trying to stifle conservative speech and that it had caved in to Berkeley’s “rabid off-campus mob” in doing so.

There are very few students on the Berkeley campus who see this week’s delay of the Coulter speech on public safety grounds as a free speech violation. That’s why the lawsuit the College Republicans filed this week against the UC administration had no Berkeley student sponsors other than the College Republicans. Think of the contrast with 1964, when there was a genuine free speech violation and a mass free speech movement; it mobilized virtually every Berkeley student group from left to right and even created a new organization of students, the independents, so that those who had been unaffiliated with any political group could be a part of the Free Speech Movement. In 1964 thousands of Berkeley students marched and hundreds engaged in civil disobedience when free speech was genuinely under threat. Not so today.

No, this is not a real free speech movement at Berkeley today, and that is because there has been no free speech violation by the UC administration. What the Coulter affair really amounts to is a “time, place, and manner” quibble.

Who’s behind the free speech crisis on campus?
by Dorian Bon

These rants in the mainstream press botch the facts of the stories they present, smearing thousands of mostly peaceful protesters as violent thugs, while disregarding the sincere debate on the left about how to confront the right on college campuses.

But that’s not even the worst of their mistakes. Their more spectacular failure is in attributing the crisis of free speech in American universities to the behavior of students.

There is, indeed, a crisis of free speech today, one that is steadily eroding the rights of students, faculty and staff in thousands of institutions of higher learning all across the country. But the blame lies with university administrators and bosses, not the student activists they loathe.

On campus after campus, university administrations are systematically rolling back decades of hard-fought gains for free speech, threatening students with suspension and expulsion for speaking out and clamping down on their right to assemble and organize. […]

THESE CHANGES occurred in tandem with a broader transformation of higher education, orchestrated to better serve the interests of business and the U.S. state, while placing the cost of education increasingly on the backs of students and faculty. […]

THE TRANSFORMATION of the university into a neoliberal regime has intensified the crisis of free speech on campus.

Contingent professors are justifiably afraid to express themselves openly with very little job security and power to defend themselves from their employers. Students, saddled with debt, cannot afford to risk discipline or suspension when their hopes of financial security depend on getting their diplomas and finding employment. To top it off, campuses are now dominated by an army of administrators policing student and faculty activity.

Conservatives Have Only Themselves to Blame for Today’s Campus Wars
by Jim Sleeper

This time, it was conservatives assailing colleges as too “liberal”—never mind that many campuses have already been transformed by the very corporate, capitalist incentives and pressures that most conservatives champion, with disturbing consequences that they’re trying to blame on liberal political correctness.

Some censorious “liberals” have indeed only helped to turn undergraduate liberal education into a dance of careerism, power-networking, and self-marketing. Many rail at glass ceilings that must be broken by women and people of color, forgetting that breaking the ceiling doesn’t improve the foundations and walls unless wholly different challenges are posed to the structure itself. Federal bureaucratic overreach has compounded the problem by enabling campus sexual-assault regimens to endanger the due process that is essential to liberalism.

Still, the accommodations of some left-liberals to the increasingly business-oriented and bureaucratic drift of higher education and of civil society are mainly symptoms, not causes, of our civic decay. Now that the Republican presidential campaign has elevated a financer of casinos and a vulgar, predatory self-marketer whom most of the Party denounces, even as its members asphyxiate free speech and open inquiry in Congress, the rest of us—some honorable conservatives included—are wondering just what kinds of “free” and “robust” speech right-wingers are willing to accept and what kinds of “political correctness” they themselves have imposed.

The students whom Deresiewicz called “entitled little shits” and whom conservatives characterize as coddled and frightened don’t exist in a vacuum. They are products of an increasingly frightening, atomizing society that turns college students from co-participants in universities’ historic scientific and social missions into isolated, heavily indebted consumers of career training. This model of education serves the casino-like financing and omnivorous, predatory, intrusive marketing that conservatives themselves have championed, even as it incubates a racially “diverse” global managerial elite that doesn’t consider itself accountable to any democratic polity or moral code. Absent massive public funding like that of the 1950s and ‘60s for higher education as a crucible of citizenship, students must mortgage themselves to future employers by taking courses and programs that private donors and trustees choose to fund.

It makes little sense to preach civic-republican virtues such as the fearless pursuit of truth through reasoned dialogue when conservative trustees and administrators are busy harnessing liberal education only to facilitate market priorities, not interrogate them.

It’s precisely because conservatives consider themselves so decent and principled that they’re in denial about their responsibility for the transformation of elite universities into training centers for wealth-making, power-wielding, and public relations, and that they’re campaigning so energetically to discredit those who want to keep liberal education somewhat independent of both markets and the national-security state.

Hoping for Another Battle, Nativist Trump Supporters and Antigovernment Extremists Again Descend on Berkeley
by Ryan Lenz

As the birthplace of the free speech movement decades ago, the debate surrounding Coulter’s speech put Berkeley in the precarious position of protecting its staff and students while ensuring freedom of speech, especially in a political climate where the possibility of violence between alt-right extremists and antifascist protesters becomes more frequent. Two previous appearances by far-right and conservative speakers have turned violent at Berkeley, including a protest on April 15 that left 11 people injured and six hospitalized. Police arrested 21 people on a variety of charges then.

Lawrence Rosenthal, chair and lead researcher of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, issued a written statement on the day’s events. Rosenthal warned people not to be cowed by the alt-right’s claims of censorship and noted that the university had two concerns to consider in cancelling Coulter’s appearance — the unequivocal support of free speech and security.

“The situation at the University of California does not conform to the claims of suppression of free speech that conservative politicians and commentators have been trying to tie it to. Neither student groups nor the University administration are responsible for the threats of violence that surround Ann Coulter’s proposed appearance on this campus,” Rosenthal wrote.

Rosenthal also criticized Spencer for “exalt[ing] in the violence,” as he did in a YouTube video recounting the event.

“The deepest significance of the ongoing ‘Battles of Berkeley’ is the attempt by the alt-right to move the country toward fascist-anti-fascist violence,” Rosenthal said. “Conservative politicians and commentators wishing to use the Berkeley situation as a cudgel in the name of the free speech run the risk of enabling the dark goals of the alt-right.”

A white supremacist is accused of punching a protester. Classmates say he makes them feel ‘unsafe.’
by Lindsey Bever

In a video posted April 15, Damigo was seen talking about Identity Evropa, which he said is “interested in promoting and preserving European culture and values.”

He said his group was at the protest “because we believe that free speech is a European value and there are many people here who are wishing to use violence to silence other people. And so we feel that’s important to be here today to ensure that people are able to speak without having violence used against them and that they’re able to get their narrative out there and just start a conversation, start a dialogue and let people know that there are certain things they disagree with and some things they do agree with and they’re not going to be intimidated when these people come out here to promote violence.”

That was the same day Damigo was apparently seen in a video punching a female protester in the face and then running into a chaotic crowd.

The Schools Where Free Speech Goes to Die
Some of the worst offenders against the First Amendment are religious colleges.

by Katha Pollitt

 

 

Public Intellectuals As Thought Leaders

“We are at a curious moment in the marketplace of ideas. It is the best of times for thought leaders. It is the worst of times for public intellectuals. It is the most disorienting of times for everyone else.”

That is what Daniel Drezner writes about in his piece at the Oxford University Press blog, The decline of public intellectuals. I understand the complaint, as it is far from unjustified. But I must admit that my perspective is different. I’ve seen too many bad examples of public intellectuals to be able to blame it all on thought leaders. Of course, that isn’t to say many thought leaders don’t deserve to share the blame.

My attitude on the subject is from taking a broader perspective on what it has meant to be an intellectual in the past and what it means today. In the past, most people were silenced, people such as myself. But it isn’t just that more people have access to being heard today. People also have more access to information and education than ever before. There simply are more smart educated people than there once was. Along with higher rates of high school graduation and college degrees, the average IQ has jumped up 20 points these past generations.

Yes, there are more thought leaders today. But there are also more public intellectuals. And generally there is simply more people involved in public debate. That is the only hope that we might one day have a functioning democracy. That is far from public intellectuals being in decline. It’s just that people don’t automatically bow down to them. When I think a public intellectual is wrong, I’ve challenged them and have done so with knowledge, even though I lack higher education. I’m more widely read than the average public intellectual, as understandably most public intellectuals have a field of expertise that has allowed them to gain public attention.

Is the world a worse place for there now being people who will force public intellectuals to be accountable and won’t let them slip past based solely on their claims of authority? This is a good thing and the author begrudgingly agrees to an extent, although one can sense that he is nostalgic for an earlier time when he imagines public intellectuals were respected. I’d point out that it wasn’t only the average person who was silenced in the past. Even most intellectuals and aspiring public intellectuals were silenced while a few public intellectuals dominated nearly all public debate, not always the cream of the crop rising to the top. There is no better time in all of history than right now to be a public intellectual or be involved in public debate in any manner.

Besides, anyone who thinks bad ideas didn’t flourish in the past is utterly clueless about history. And when a public intellectual makes statements to that effect, he should be confronted about it. The role of the public intellectual hasn’t fundamentally changed. And don’t for a moment think that public intellectuals never spread bad ideas. In fact, bad ideas would rarely become popular if not for public intellectuals. This is because there is no clear distinction between a public intellectual and a thought leader.

To be fair, he does make a good point about think tanks. There is big money promoting bad ideas. And it is hard for public intellectuals to fight against that. And he is right that the only solution is “is more discord and more debate.” But also more demand for honesty and integrity, especially from public intellectuals, whether working for think tanks or not (unfortunately, even scientists are increasingly getting their funding from corporations and corporate-related organizations). When a bad idea gets spread by a public intellectual, which happens on a regular basis, it gives that bad idea legitimacy. That is more dangerous than a thousand thought leaders spouting bullshit.

I read a Wall Street Journal article the other day, Jonathan Haidt on the Cultural Roots of Campus Rage by Bari Weiss (full text). He quotes from an interview he had with Haidt, a public intellectual who has increasingly become a thought leader. I found it a depressing experience to read his view because it was once again framed by a standard right-wing culture war narrative. He asserted college activists as being part of a dangerous campus religion, ignoring the incident in question at UC Berkley was instigated by unknown masked agitators who may have had no association with the student body.

Anyway, what about the long history of students protesting, sometimes violently, at universities that goes back centuries? Why is students protesting now all of a sudden a sign of activism turning into a religion? And what about all the other threatening acts by those who aren’t students: the attacks by Trump supporters, the recent increase in hate crimes, the violence directed at women’s clinic workers, the rancher supporters pointing guns at federal agents, the right-wingers who occupied federal land with weapons, etc? Is every act of protest to be considered religious or quasi-religious in nature? As always, there is historical amnesia and a lack of larger context.

Because Haidt is a respected public intellectual, his weird brand of conservative-minded liberalism gets pushed to center stage, the supposed ‘mainstream’, where he has immense influence. Worse still, many other public intellectuals will defend people like him, even when they step far outside their narrow field of expertise. To be honest, Haidt’s opinion on this matter is no more relevant than that of any random person. He is the kind of public-intellectual-cum-thought-leader that is disconnected from reality, arguing that academia has shifted far left even while being oblivious to the fact that the majority of Americans have also shifted left, further left than academia on such issues as economics. This has left those like Haidt trying to hold their ground in center-right liberalism, as the rest of the society moves further away in the opposite direction.

More than anything, what we need is more common people closer to realities on the ground, yet those who are well read and well informed enough to be involved in public debate. Their voices need to be promoted, as they often have perspectives that are lacking among the formally educated. For example, if we want to have a debate about poverty, the voices that are most important are the poor who have genuine insights to add, insights that most in the economically comfortable intellectual class would likely never consider. That came up in recent corporate media obsession with Appalachia, where a few desperately poor whites get all the attention while intellectuals and activists in Appalachia get ignored because they confuse the narrative, a point made by Elizabeth Catte among others. We need to rely less on a few famous public intellectuals to have an opinion on everything. That just leads to an increase in the incidents of the smart idiot effect.

I’m not sure the exact solution. I wish everyone involved would take truth-seeking more seriously, such as not making wild claims and accusations in order to get corporate media attention. I feel like the role of public intellectual has been cheapened, as so many attention whores chase the spotlight and compete for book deals. But I guess that is to be expected in this kind of capitalist society where even academics win the competition of ideas through fame and money. It doesn’t matter that there thousands of scholars with deeper understanding and insight than someone like Haidt. They don’t tell the corporate media hacks what they want to hear, the popular narratives that sell advertising.

* * * *

As a side note, this is hardly a new issue for me. I’ve long fought for a more inclusive and democratic vision of public intellectuality. If you publicly express your intellect on a regular basis, then you are a public intellectual. All that it takes is to be curious with a love of learning, willing to question and doubt, and a desire to engage with others.

I take this seriously. And I’m not tolerant of bullshit. I hold public intellectuals to a high standard because their role in society is so important. That standard remains the same no matter who the person is. Authority, perceived or real, doesn’t change the fact that a public intellectual has a responsibility to the public and so the public has the responsibility to hold them accountable. Public debate is a two way street, a discussion and not a lecture.

In that light, I’ve seen it as one of my roles to offer judgment where I deem it necessary. Along with criticism of Jonathan Haidt, I’ve turned my critical gaze to other public intellectuals, sometimes interacting with them directly in the process: Rick ShenkmanPaul BloomKenan MalikCris Campbell, and I suppose there might have been others.

Funhouse Mirrors of Corporate Media

Many talk about biases in the media, by which they typically mean the ‘mainstream’ (corporate) media. Most people would agree that biases exist. Yet it is hard to find agreement about what those biases are. Maybe that is an important part of it. The issue isn’t just about biases, but how our very perception of biases becomes biased. We lose perspective because our entire reality has become so mediated by media. The more our lives become saturated with media, the less we are able to see media clearly.

It’s similar to looking into a funhouse mirror and trying to discern the meaning in the warped image one sees reflected back. Now imagine if you were surrounded by funhouse mirrors on all sides, everywhere you went. To understand the distortions of one mirror, you’d look into another mirror with different distortions. We’ve come to see the funhouse mirror as reality. We are simply arguing over which funhouse mirror is least distorted or else distorted in a way that confirms our own expectations. What most of us never think about is who are the people who make the mirrors and remain hidden behind them.

Maybe the purpose of so much media isn’t in what it shows but in what it doesn’t show. The bias isn’t necessarily toward a particular ideology but rather away from the real source of power and influence. It’s a tool of distraction, a key component of politics as spectacle. If you want to know what are the issues of greatest importance and what are the views of greatest explanatory power, pay close attention to what is ignored and dismissed, what is precluded and occluded. Look for what is absent and lacking, the gap in between what is stated and the space outside of the frame where something should be.

The failure of corporate media is as much or more ommission than it is commission. Various media figures attacking each other about their supposed biases is yet more distraction. Arguing over biases is a safe and managed debate, each side playing the role of controlled opposition for the other. But what is it that both sides avoid? What is disallowed by the propaganda model of media? What is not being spoken and represented? What is missing?

Corporate Bias of ‘Mainstream’ Media

When people make accusations of liberal bias in the media, what are they even talking about? Are they utterly disconnected from reality? The so-called mainstream media is corporate media owned by a handful of parent corporations. Their only motive is profit.

Anyway, it’s not as if there is a lack of US media with a clear political right bias, both conservative or right-wing. This includes major media with large audiences and immense influence, but some of it is more directed at niche ideological groups and demographics. There is: Fox News, Yahoo News, Newsmax, Drudge Report, The Blaze, Breitbart News Network, Rush Limbaugh Show, Sean Hannity Show, Glenn Beck Program, The Dennis Miller Show, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, The New York Post, the Arizona Republic, The Detroit Free Press, Dallas Morning News, Cincinnati Enquirer, Reason, National Review, Cato Journal, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, The American, The American Conservative, City Journal, Chronicles, Human Events, The Independent Review, The National Interest, The New American, Policy Review, Regulation, Townhall Magazine, World, World Affairs, Newsweek, etc. And that doesn’t even include most of the moderate conservative media that gets labeled as ‘liberal’.

It’s not as if those on the political right are lacking media to support their worldview and confirm their biases. In fact, research shows that most media consumers on the political right exist within an echo chamber. The only reason they think the rest of media is biased is because the political right media that dominates keeps repeating this and, as the old propaganda trick goes, anything repeated enough to a large enough audience will be treated as if it were fact.

Here is one of the differences between ‘liberal’ media and ‘conservative’ media. On the political left, there is maybe more diversity of sources, none of which dominate all the others. But on the political right, Fox News controls the messaging, talking points, and framing for the rest of the news outlets that share a similar bias. Related to that, most Americans are further to the left on major issues than is the corporate media, as they are further to the left of both main political parties. When you are talking about media on the political right, that is bias that is extremely to the right of the general public. Maybe that is why more Americans are increasingly turning to alternative media, primarily available through the internet.

Another thing is that there is no simple relationship between media and viewers. Plenty of social science research shows that the liberal-minded tend to be more open and curious about the world, specifically about what is different. A large part of the audience of political right media is probably not people who are on the political right. I know that has been true of me. Because of curiosity, I can’t help but look at diverse sources, even when it just makes me angry. I doubt there are as many conservatives and right-wingers consuming news reporting from the New York Times, MSNBC, and NPR as there are liberals and left-wingers with the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh (although that would depend if one is talking about symbolic identities or operational ideologies).

According to Pew (Political Polarization & Media Habits), conservatives don’t get much news from a variety of political right media, as about half of the consistently conservative get most of their information from Fox News (with 84% having watched Fox News in the past week), a pattern not seen among consistent liberals. To put it in further context, the same Pew poll shows that those who are politically mixed get more of their news from sources that right-wingers claim to have a political left bias, which seems to indicate that centrists disagree with right-wingers about perceived media bias. In fact, the more liberal the demographic, the less they relied on a single news source (other data shows that the even more liberal and leftist young demographic relies on an even greater diversity of sources with more emphasis on alternative media and social media, including “approximately 85 percent of millennials regularly follow domestic and international current events both online and through print publications. Most millennials are following at least 10 topics at any one time and around 73 percent of young people are more interested in gathering information about viewpoints that they oppose than in learning more about stances they agree with.”). Also, that Pew data shows that most of the political left media clumps closer to the political center, at least in terms of viewers of mainstream media, whereas much of the political right media is far from the average viewer.

Comparing the two sides is false equivalency. All media is assumed to be liberal or leftist if it doesn’t strongly and ideologically promote some combination of:

  • blatant propaganda, political obstructionism, extreme opposition to democracy, voter suppression/purges/disenfranchisement, gerrymandering;
  • near-anarchist anti-government rhetoric, Ayn Rand Objectivism, right-wing (pseudo-)libertarianism, inverted totalitarianism, neoliberal corporatism;
  • proto-fascism, hyper-patriotism, war hawk neoconservatism, expansionist neo-imperialism, geopolitical interventionism, military adventurism, continuous war of aggression, military-industrial complex, intelligence-security-police state, gun nut militancy, oppressive law and order, mass incarceration, tough-on-crime laws;
  • religious fundamentalism, theocracy, Creationism, anti-Semitism, pro-Israeli, Social Darwinism, eugenics, hardcore social conservatism, white supremacy, ethnonationalism, scapegoating, dog whistle politics, race-baiting, red-baiting, attack politics, fear-mongering, hate-mongering, paranoid conspiracy theory;
  • climate change denialism, anti-science, anti-intellectualism, anti-immigration, anti-public education, anti-welfare, anti-immigration, basically anti-everything that involves social democracy, civil society, human rights, compassion and basic decency;
  • reverse political correctness, demagoguery, ideological purity, openly loyal Republican partisanship;
  • et cetera.

Everything else is part of a powerful secret cabal of leftist special interest groups, Jewish media moguls, journalist operatives, devious intellectual elite, and God-hating scientific dogmatists who have somehow taken over the global corporate media and are conspiring to push Democratic brainwashing, liberal indoctrination, left-wing propaganda, and the Communist-Islamic-Secular takeover of society. Yet oddly, when considering the details, that supposed liberal or leftist corporate media expresses views that are about the same as or to the right of majority public opinion.

The moderate-to-center-right media gets accused of being far left, the actual far left gets entirely ignored, and the far right media controls the entire framing of the debate about bias. Those who identify with or lean toward far right politics (liberarians, Objectivists, theocrats, etc) are regularly heard in the political right media. Many have their own shows, even on major outlets such as Fox News. When there are political campaigns and debates, we hear from panels that include these right-wing views. But when was the last time you noticed an equivalent openly ideological, hardcore left-winger (communist, anarcho-syndicalist, anti-imperialist, etc) with any prominent position in the supposed liberal-to-leftist media, with their own show or as a regular guest?

If you want to know the actual bias, look for who is making the accusation and getting heard. It is the right-wingers with massive backing from right-wing corporate media who are declaring that corporate media is left-wing. In their control of political debate, these right-wingers are using misdirection as part of their propaganda model. The fact of the matter is that all “mainstream media” is corporate media and, in our society, that means powerful big money corporatist media that is inseparable from the corporatist political system. There is no separation between the elites in government, corporations, and media. It’s all the same establishment of wealth and power.

It’s all rather pointless. According to corporate media and corporatist politicians, the views held by a majority of Americans—such as support for higher minimum wage, public option or single payer healthcare, abortion rights, stronger gun regulations, etc—represents an operational liberal bias (as opposed to the symbolic rhetoric so commonly used by the powerful to control debate and manipulate voters), which might be true in a sense if one is to call majority public opinion to be a bias. Maybe that is related to why, along with such negative opinions of ‘mainstream’ politics, only 6% of Americans (2% of young adults) trust ‘mainstream’ media. When we talk about bias, we have to ask who is being accused of bias, who is making the accusations of bias, what is the accuser’s bias, and how this relates to the biases of the general public along with various demographics. Compared to most Americans, the entire ‘mainstream’ media is biased toward the right-wing. But it’s unsurprising that, according to the right-wing, the rest of media and all of reality is biased to the left-wing. I’m not sure why we should take these right-wingers seriously. It does tell me much about corporate media that they love to obsess over and promote these right-wing accusations that largely come out of corporate media.

These days, with even NPR funded by big biz, where in the ‘mainstream’ media is someone supposed to look for hard-hitting news reporting and morally courageous investigative journalism about the wealthy and powerful who own the corporate media and control the corporatist political system? Once upon a time, back when newspapers were the main source of info for the majority of Americans, most newspapers had both a business section and a labor section. There also used to be prominent newspapers that were dedicated solely or primarily to labor issues. Is it surprising that as almost all ‘mainstream’ media has been bought up by big biz that the news reporting critical of big biz has disappeared from what has become corporate media pushing a corporatist worldview?

If there is a liberal bias among the corporate media gatekeepers, it is specifically the neoliberalism of inverted totalitarianism that is supported by a state-linked corporatist propaganda model. Calling that ‘liberal’ would comfort few liberals and even fewer leftists. There is a kind of liberalism that dominates in our society, including in ‘mainstream’ media, but the issue is about what kind of liberalism is this. Even many conservatives claim to be ‘liberal’ (e.g., classical liberals). So, what is this supposed ‘liberal’ bias? Is the corporate media actually biased to the left, considering the viewing public is itself biased even further to the left? So, left of what exactly… left of the right-wing?

It is true that the entertainment media is often rather liberal, but that is because it is seeking to make profit by entertaining the fairly liberal American viewing public. Liberalism sells because we live in a liberal society. There is nothing shocking about it. On a broad level, our entire society and everyone in it is liberal. Even American conservatives are, in this sense, just varieties of liberals. The liberal paradigm has dominated the West for a couple of centuries now. But it is a liberalism of the status quo, not a liberalism of left-wing revolution. This liberalism is not just neoliberal in its capitalism and corporatism. It also has much of that old school Whiggish progressivism favored by the classical liberals, the ideology that promoted imperialism, colonialism and genocide in order to spread freedom and democracy. It’s a paternalistic, authoritarian, and condescending liberalism that has become the heart of so-called American ‘conservatism’. The unscrupuous libertinism of our society may seem opposite of conservative ideals, but it is inseparable from capitalism and certainly not embraced by much of the political left.

Is the political right hoping to enforce right-wing bias onto the public, no matter what they’d prefer, just to make sure they are indoctrinated properly? The problem is those who complain the most about a ‘liberal’ bias are the very people who are the least conservative. Instead, they are right-wing reactionaries who in their radicalism want to push society even further into a skewed fantasy that has nothing to do with traditionalism.

Just listen to president Trump complain about the media and have his words parroted by the alt-right, even as he is the least conservative president in US history. In comparison, he makes Obama’s administration seem like a stalwart defense of traditionalism. After decades of capitulating to the far right and serving their corporatist interests, it’s amusing to watch some in the center-right corporate media finally protesting because their status quo is under attack by the far right. To the far right, the corporate media can never be far enough right, at least not until they are under authoritarian control of an Orwellian Ministry of Truth.

I wanted to finish with a different but connected issue. The Pew data I mentioned above offered something that right-wingers latched onto. Consistent liberals are more likely than consistent conservatives to stop talking to someone because of political disagreement. But what this misses is that liberals are more likely to talk to people who they disagree with. A larger percentage of conservatives, because they live in ideological isolation and are trapped in a media echo chamber, never interact with anyone they disagree with. They can’t stop talking to people they never started talking to in the first place.

As a typical person on the political left, I seek out diverse news sources and so interact with diverse people. For every person I intentionally stop talking to, I meet dozens of other new people with all kinds of views. So, I still end up interacting with more people I disagree with than the average consistent conservative.

This is relevant to the perception of bias. Conservatives are less likely to actively seek diverse sources of news and less likely to interact with diverse people. Maybe it’s partly because, as data has shown, the most consistent conservatives tend to live in homogeneous communities and so are never forced to acknowledge anything outside of their reality tunnel (whereas liberals are attracted to diverse communities for the very reason they are diverse). What this means is that the political right accusation of political left bias isn’t based on much if any actual familiarity with media outside of the political right.

From my political left perspective, it is a thousand times better to listen to someone even if you later decide the interaction is undesirable than to never listen at all, to preemptively shut out all views that disagree, to accuse others of bias before you can even honestly claim to know what their views are.

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About this topic, there is a bad article by Ross Douthat, The Missing Right-of-Center Media.

I only mention it because the comment section is a worthy read, helping to explain everything wrong with articles like that. What makes it amusing is that it is an article from the New York Times, supposedly among the most leftist of the liberal media. The reality is that there is no missing right-of-center media. The New York Times, publishing writers like Douthat, is right-of-center media.

More helpful are two answers to a Quora question, Which media outlets in the USA are right-wing and which are left-wing? One answer is from William Goff and another from Mitchell Langbert.

I could offer tons of links to articles and such, of course. But there is no point. Besides, I’ve written about this enough before. The only reason I wrote this new post was because of the callers I heard on CSPAN who probably represent the minority of the population that still gets most of their news from corporate ‘mainstream’ media. I still retain the capacity to be shocked by how many people still don’t understand such basic things as how media bias actually operates.

Anywho, here are my previous posts:

Conservatives Watching Liberal Media
Bias About Bias

What Does Liberal Bias Mean?

This Far Left And No Further
Controlling the Narrative: Part 1
Response to Rightwing Misinformation
Black and White and Re(a)d All Over
NPR: Liberal Bias?
The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties
Man vs Nature, Man vs Man: NPR, Parking Ramps, etc

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